Friday, October 23, 2009

Berry Patch

Last weekend we planted our berry patch.  We dug out the crusty lump of earth, just below the herb garden, removing the fine clay soil about a foot deep.

 Into the hole went a mass of alfalfa that will eventually rot and give the spot a boost of organic matter (we hope).

The alfalfa was topped with many bags of new, loamy, composty garden soil.  And nine new strawberry plants were planted.  Woot woot!  We planted Alpine Strawberries or Fragaria vesca - they are much smaller than the garden strawberries we are used to but are supposed to be super sweet, flavory, and delicious.  Here's hoping that we get enough of a crop to make some jam!

Marty watched.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Woodenware Care

In a fit of inspiration I decided to breakout a gifted and never used "woodenware care and repair kit" we had amongst our cleaning supplies.  I had been wanting or needing to condition some cool 1960s stainless serving utensils with hardwood handles and decided to give it a try.  I ended up oiling almost every wooden kitchen utensil in our possession.  I am now a convert - I never realized what a difference it could make.

The product I used is Tree Spirit  (although any pure mineral oil will do) and is designed for use on wood items that come in contact with food.  You just apply the oil using a rag and then lightly sand with 600 grit sandpaper.  Reapply as needed and wipe clean after 30 min.  This removes the raised/ rough wood to a smooth finish.  Our wooden spoons look and feel amazing.  Our knife block never looked so good and our cutting boards are protected from the ravages of cutting and washing.  If you got some time I highly recommend it.

Friday, October 16, 2009

crawly creepy

Last weekend, when I was sorting out the lower vegetable bed, I came across a large, spotted brown spider in the tomatoes.  Feeling a bit more courageous than I might have without my thick garden gloves on, I decided to cut the branch she was on and move her to a new home among the eggplants.

 After moving her to the bed above, I noticed a couple things:

1) three white, spikey egg sacks that had been hidden behind the leaves I'd cut away on the tomato plant.

2) when the spider crawled to the top of the eggplant leaf, I spied a neon orange hour glass on the underside of her belly.

It was pretty easy to identify.  I typed "brown widow" into Google and found a bunch of  info.  If I'd had any doubt, the egg sacks sealed the deal of our spider being a Latrodectus geometricus - commonly known as the brown widow, a close cousin to the black widow.  After reading last weeks post on Ramshackle Solid about black widows, I felt a certain camaraderie in knowing that it wasn't just us - other people are sharing their yards and homes with these scary creatures too. But now we have kin whose poison is supposedly twice as toxic? 

I'm beginning to rethink our "catch and release" policy.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Changing Over

Over the past weekend we said goodbye to the tomatoes.  It was less of an emotional farewell than it was last fall - the tomatoes just weren't the same.  They were delicious, just not prolific.  We had a few rounds of bruschetta.  We have three measly jars of frozen sauce. Salsa a couple of times.  You know, just not the bounty that we had last year.  The tomatoes shared the bed this summer with four different varieties of cucumber and several types of bean that also never really sprung into action. Oh well, bring on the cool weather and the winter garden.  Brassicas here we come!

After removing all the plants, except for the spindly family of asparagus that live at one end of the bed, we added some home made amendments to the soil.  Very exciting.  This is really the first time we added a load of our own composts - worm and regular.  Though I think we could have used twice as much of both, we were kind of proud to see the efforts of tightening our waste management system go right into the garden in the form of dark, rich organic matter.  Pretty cool.  We also added some drip irrigation.

We are hoping that the new drip will do for our vegetables what it has done for the herb bed - super happy plants.  We covered the bed with a new coat of alfalfa and are looking forward to planting seed next weekend.  The upper bed, on the other hand, got only a small editing. The peppers, eggplants, and zucchini are still growing strong.  So, fingers crossed, we will have a smooth transition into the new season - some remaining summer/fall veg to use as the winter/spring things get on with it.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Yard Shoes

After my last backpacking trip I've decided to retire my hiking shoes. They will now take the place of my trusty (and barely holding together) yard shoes.
Sad to see them go. We've shared some great times together.

Friday, October 9, 2009


Since even before we got our first seeds into the ground several seasons ago, it has been a goal of ours to home grow all the vegetables it takes to make a hearty pot of ratatouille. For those who are more familiar with the film than the dish, ratatouille, simply, is a French vegetable stew. People seem to agree that it can be served either as a side dish or on its own with some crusty bread; however, that seems to be the end of what people agree on. Some recipes call for all the ingredients to be sauteed together in one big pot. Some recipes, including Julia Child's, call for the ingredients to be layered in a casserole and baked. To me, the best ratatouille is a summation of each vegetable's individual expression layered into an intricate (and delicious!) whole. This means that each veggie is cooked on its own, in the method that suits it best, and then combined. Whatever your method, ratatouille piled on a piece of crusty bread with a good glass of wine is the perfect bookend to Summer and transition to Fall. It is good, simple food at its best.

This year we have gotten closer to our goal than ever before! Though we didn't have much luck with the onions, we did have a bumper crop of gorgeous eggplant, zucchini, and peppers. Our tomatoes kind of pooped out by the time the rest of the veg was ready t
o go, what with the two major heat spells we had, but we still manged to get a usable crop. All the herbs, the basil, sage, and thyme, were also ready to go in from the herb garden.

This recipe is not difficult, though it does take some time and is definitely not for those looking for the easiest route. But, if you can set aside an evening, it is a wonderful way to spend some time together - plus your efforts will provide additional meals for the rest of the week. We ate a quick dinner before we started and worked throughout the evening over a bottle of wine.

Rachel's Ratatouille

  • eggplants, 2 or 3 big ones (or enough little ones to add up to 2 or 3 big ones)
  • zucchini, 4 or 5
  • bell peppers, 3, 4, 5 (whatcha got?)
  • tomatoes, 12ish
  • onions, 2 medium
  • garlic, 5 or 6 cloves
  • basil, a grip (about 1 cup of fresh leaves)
  • sage, thyme, parsley
  • good olive oil
  • salt, pepper

Clearly, as you have just read the ingredients, there is no need to be exact here. The trick is for each ingredient to be prepared independently to develop its own unique flavors, then gradually layer these flavors on top of each other.

Eggplant and Zucchini:
  1. Preheat oven to 400°.
  2. Cut the stem off your eggplants and then cut them into cubes, roughly 3/4 inch. Pay more attention to keeping them about the same size, as opposed to exactly 3/4 inch cubes. Put them into a large bowl and set aside.
  3. Do the same thing with the zucchini, but make the cubes a bit smaller than the eggplant, about 1/2 inch. Put in a separate bowl.
  4. Drizzle each bowl of veg with olive oil and sprinkle with kosher salt. You know, just enough oil to coat the cubes, 2ish tablespoons. More is fine if you want to go there. And a big, hearty pinch of salt. Toss to coat.
  5. Pour the eggplant out onto one sheet pan. The zucchini onto another. Spread them each out into a single layer and stick them into the oven. Pull them out after 20 minutes and turn them about with a spatula. Stick them back in the oven for another 20 minutes.
  6. The eggplant is done when is goes golden and soft. The squash should also begin to get lightly brown, but should hold its shape, don't let it get too soft.
  7. You can shut the oven off when these guys are done, you won't need it again.
  1. As the eggplant and zucchini are cooking, put up a large pot of water to boil.
  2. Fill a large bowl with water and ice. Set aside.
  3. Take the stems off all the tomatoes and, using a sharp or serrated knife, cut an "X" into the bottom of each fruit.
  4. When the water on the stove begins to boil, carefully drop the tomatoes into the pot. Wait 60-90 seconds (90 for large tomatoes, less for smaller ones). Pull the tomatoes out with a slotted spoon and put immediately into the ice bath.
  5. When all the tomatoes are in the ice water, pull one out at a time and the skin should peel away very easily. Peel all the tomatoes.
  6. Quarter the peeled tomatoes, remove the seeds, and set aside. If you're using larger tomatoes, larger than plum, cut them into eighths.
  1. Ummm, where are we? Ahh, peppers. I roast my peppers right in the fire on my stove top. Get them all black and charred. You can do this in the oven as well, but at this point my oven always has eggplant and zucchini in it.
  2. However you have done it, when the peppers are roasted up, stick them into a paper sack, roll the top up, and leave them steam for about 15 minutes.
  3. After 15 minutes, take them out of the sack and the skins should peel away without too much trouble. When peeled, cut them open, remove the seeds, and cut them into 1/4 inch slices. Set aside.
Odds and ends:
  1. Cut the ends off of your onions, cut them in half, and peel them. Then cut each half into half-moon slices about 1/8 inch thick.
  2. Peel your garlic cloves and slice thinly.
Putting it together:
  1. Now, finally, get your big old pot on the stove. (I use a big 10 quart Le Creuset cast-iron and enamel pot.) Over a medium-high heat, add enough olive oil to just cover the bottom of your pot. 3ish tablespoons? (4ish?) Let it heat up for a minute or so.
  2. Add the onions and garlic, a big pinch of salt, and saute until they begin to turn golden. You don't want them to caramelize, just to get soft and begin to color.
  3. Turn the heat down to medium. Add the tomatoes and the sliced peppers. Stir to combine. Add another pinch of salt and a big pinch of fresh black pepper. Turn the heat to low and cook for 10-15 minutes.
  4. Add the roasted eggplant and zucchini. Stir to combine. Add half of your herbs. Basil and parsley can be roughly chopped. Thicker, stronger herbs like sage, thyme, etc. can be more finely chopped.

  5. Stir and cook on low for 45-60 minutes. Stir occasionally
  6. Add more basil and/or parsley. Taste. Season with salt and pepper as needed. Add more olive oil if you like. Your finished product should be think and unctuous, but still chunky, with all the ingredients still identifiable.
Seems like a complicated recipe but honestly, this dish is super rustic and does not need to be exact. I have added roasted mushrooms, yellow crook-necks, raisins, kind of whatever you're feeling. We have eaten it with the crusty bread mentioned above, but also tossed with pasta and cheese, over creamy polenta, inside an omelette, on toast with a fried egg on creative!

Bon appetit!